Shakespeare's England: Where do you find it today?

William Shakespeare Stratford-upon-Avon gets plenty of tourists but where else can you find Shakespeare's legacy?

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The inns, brothels, battlefields and towns of England are sprinkled throughout William Shakespeare's plays. On the Bard's 450th birthday, take a tour of the "sceptred isle" that inspired his works - and look at how the locations have changed.

From Birmingham to Milton Keynes - Shakespeare's legacy exists far beyond the confines of his Stratford-upon-Avon birthplace. Many English locations that appear in his plays or are closely connected to them can still be visited, although they are often now drastically different places.

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Leicester

Go to Leicester in search of its Blue Boar Inn and, chances are, you may be left feeling a little disorientated.

Once, the Blue Boar was a famous stopping-off point for travellers. It was, so legend has it, one of the last places Richard III rested his head before meeting his fate at Bosworth.

The reconstructed Blue Boar Inn as a physical model A model of the inn was produced by the University of Leicester

Today, weary travellers are still resting their heads on the site of the Blue Boar - but it is no longer the half-timbered medieval building of yore.

"It's now a Travelodge on the Leicester ring road and, my word, it's horrible," said Royal Shakespeare Company actor Nick Asbury, who has written a book in which he records travelling to all the locations mentioned in Shakespeare's history plays.

"Shakespeare depicts Richard III having nightmares prior to the Battle of Bosworth," he said. "I like to think whoever designed that Travelodge is suffering from similar pangs of conscience."

Leicester also has links to a second Shakespearean king - King Lear, for whom the city is supposed to be named.

Travelodge Today the site of the Blue Boar, where Richard III is said to have stayed, is a Travelodge

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, the king's dutiful daughter Cordelia is meant to have buried the king beneath Leicester's Temple of Janus - a piece of Roman architecture today known as the Jewry Wall.

However, Mathew Morris, from the University of Leicester, who was the site director for the team that found the remains of Richard III in a car park in the city, has said he has no plans to search for King Lear's remains.

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The Forest of Arden

The Forest of Arden, near Shakespeare's Warwickshire birthplace, crops up as a significant location in the comedy As You Like It.

It seems likely the woodland imagery he conjures up would have come from his memories of his local wood.

Audrey from As You Like It

However, much of the ancient forest has now been cleared and modern visitors are now more likely to find themselves in the suburbs of Birmingham.

There is, in fact, some debate among academics about whether the play is meant to be set in Arden - or the Ardennes, in France.

"I think it's undoubtedly a French setting," said Dr Paul Edmondson, head of research and knowledge at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

"All of the people in the play have French names and it's based upon a French source. But the references to Arden are interesting - it's as if he's trying to Frenchify the area where he grew up."

Icknield Street ran through modern-day Birmingham The Forest of Arden once stretched into what is now a part of Birmingham

Today, apart from a few areas of woodland, the trust says the forest has largely disappeared.

Interestingly, Stratford-upon-Avon is not described in Shakespeare's plays, although in the Taming of the Shrew nearby Wilmcote gets a mention - the home of Shakespeare's mother.

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London

As you would expect, London - Shakespeare's home for several years - is frequently referenced in his plays.

Vast sections of Henry IV take place in the brothels of London - today the far more salubrious South Bank.

The South Bank today London's South Bank is the home of the Globe Theatre which, in Shakespeare's time, would have sat amid inns and brothels

"The brothels were near the theatres, so in a sense they were his neighbours," said Dr Edmondson. "He would have known that area well."

"One of the extraordinary things about Shakespeare is this question of why he chose to focus on these particular places," said Mr Asbury.

"In two plays he places characters very specifically at the house of the Bishop of Ely, which is in modern-day Holborn."

In one of these plays, Richard III, the king mentions the delicious strawberries in the bishop's garden.

Holborn Hatton Gardens, in Holborn - once home to delicious strawberries, according to Shakespeare's Richard III

And in Richard II, Shakespeare uses the area as the place where John of Gaunt makes his famous "sceptred isle" speech.

"In Shakespeare's day, Ely Place was home to Sir Christopher Hatton, a tolerant Catholic," said Mr Asbury. "I think Shakespeare was saying something about the religious schism which was ripping his country apart."

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Milton Keynes

Modern Milton Keynes is well-known for its roundabouts, new town design and perhaps the fact Cliff Richard once filmed a music video in one of its shopping centres.

Stony Stratford Stony Stratford, in Milton Keynes, is one of the places the two boy princes stop on their way to the Tower in Richard III

But Shakespeare also gives it a mention, in the form of the borough of Stony Stratford.

"It's mentioned in Richard III as one of the places where the princes stop on their way to the tower," said Dr Edmondson. "It was a popular stopping point for travellers and there was an Eleanor Cross there."

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Windsor

In The Merry Wives of Windsor, the wives contrive a plot against the amorous Falstaff which involves an arrangement to meet him under an oak tree in what is now Windsor Great Park.

"It was a very famous tree," said Dr Edmondson. "When it was struck by lightning in Victorian times, the queen led the nation in mourning for it."

An ancient oak tree The ancient oak trees of Windsor Great Park were among the landmarks Shakespeare mentions

Gino Caiafa, from the Crown Estate Office, said the tree is known as the Herne Oak.

After its destruction, a replacement was planted but the site is not open to the public.

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Yorkshire

Yorkshire's bloody past makes a frequent appearance in Shakespeare's history plays.

As a playwright in Tudor times, Shakespeare made a task of talking up the royal dynasty.

Bootham Bar Today tourists climb the walls of York where once Yorkist heads were put on spikes

The Tudors' Yorkist predecessors, such as Richard III, do not get a flattering portrayal. In Henry VI, the heads of the Duke of York and his fellow "traitors" are set on spikes on Bootham Bar - one of the main gates into York.

The gate is one of the few locations mentioned by Shakespeare that still look much as they once did and is a popular tourist destination.

Shakespeare also writes about the bloody Battle of Towton, in Tadcaster.

A stone marking the Battle of Towton Reminders of the battle are few today, says Nick Asbury who has visited the site

"Twenty-eight thousand people died at the battle in a single day," says Mr Asbury. "It was the battle which brought the Yorkists to the throne and was one of the bloodiest fought on English soil.

"In Shakespeare's day, this was the scar on the nation's soul. And yet, today, hardly anybody knows about it. If you go there, you find two golf courses."

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